Gophers quarterback Conor Rhoda has been in a starting-spot battle with redshirt sophomore Demry Croft the whole season.
After Croft gave up a fumble in the second quarter, he was benched until the last two drives. Rhoda took over the role for most of the second half and led the Gophers to a 34-point win over Oregon State in Corvallis, Oregon on Saturday.
“I will say today is the first time I’ve watched Conor Rhoda take control of the football team,” head coach P.J. Fleck told reporters.
Rhoda went 7-8 passing for 158 yards and a touchdown in the 48-14 win over Oregon State. He had 14 rushing yards on six carries.
Croft had zero pass attempts and zero rush attempts in the first three quarters. He did, however, have two drives that ended in a touchdown, one of them a 64-yard score he ran in.
In Croft’s second drive for the Gophers, he bobbled the snap in the rainy weather and fumbled the ball to the Beavers. They scored on the next play.
Fleck said Croft made the mistake of trying to pick up the fumbled ball instead of just jumping on it to secure it.
“One of the reasons why I didn’t play Demry in the second half was because he tried to pick it up,” Fleck told reporters. “It’s a teaching moment.”
In last week’s game, Rhoda threw an interception in the end zone but was not benched after. Fleck said he didn’t bench Rhoda because he needs to make mistakes in games to learn from them.
Last night, Rhoda put up 24 unanswered points after Croft fumbled the ball and was benched.
He led the team to the 48-14 victory with the help of his favorite target wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who scored on a 67-yard TD pass from Rhoda for the first score of the night.
“I noticed that Conor is a lot more comfortable now,” Johnson told reporters. “I see it each week, he’s getting more comfortable with his ideas that he’s going to do out there.”
After Croft was benched for most of the second half, Fleck put him in when the game was sealed with a score of 41-14 and 2:53 left in the game.
“This is a teaching moment,” Fleck said about benching Croft. “Now, we put him back in the game and he takes off and runs. He responded perfectly.”
The strengths of the two quarterbacks are clear. Croft had 64 rushing yards on one attempt and zero passing yards off zero attempts. Rhoda went 7-for-8 passing in last night’s game for 158 yards and just 14 rushing yards on six attempts.
“‘How can I take over this team as best as I can and help this team win?’” Rhoda told reporters about working on leading the team. “I was really happy to see it go the way it went tonight.”
Rhoda had more drives last game in the win against Buffalo. Rhoda played nine drives to Croft’s four drives in this game against Oregon State.
When asked about Rhoda taking the starting position, Fleck didn’t give any definitive answer about the position being decided.